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  • Richmond, Calif., Shows the Love to Popular Community Greenway

    Some 375 volunteers brought some TLC to the Richmond Greenway in Richmond, Calif., on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last week, joining communities across the country hosting volunteer events to honor a man whose generous spirit continues to inspire Americans.

    Community groups and energetic individuals got their hands dirty maintaining the popular greenway, pulling out weeds, collecting seeds and replanting garden beds.

    But in addition to regular upkeep, this year's event created some new project areas around the Richmond Greenway. Urban Tilth, a nonprofit organization that promotes community agriculture in west Contra Costa County, started planting its Edible Forest in a disused area on 16th Street. Gompers Garden, a remarkable revitalization project of Gompers High School, built raised beds for their new garden area. And The Watershed Project continued the development of its bioswale, a landscaping feature designed to remove silt and pollution from surface water runoff, applying sheet mulching and planting a number of native plants.

    "Last year we brought out 750 native plants and ran out after the first hour," says Matt Frieberg from The Watershed Council. "So this year I brought out 2,000. And it looks like the volunteers rose to the challenge!"

    The volunteer event had a lively festival feel, with food, music, tents and a Kids Zone with farm animals and biodegradable pots for youngsters to decorate and plant with a winter vegetable.

    Richmond Spokes, a local bike shop, was there fixing bikes with their mobile Spokeshop. It was great to see the Spokeshop in action--RTC helped launch Spokeshop through our Metropolitan Grants Program, funded by The Coca-Cola Foundation. This grant program has supported the tremendous work of community groups across America, and Gompers Garden and Urban Tilth will soon receive grants courtesy of The Coca-Cola Foundation and RTC for expansion of their garden areas.

    If you live in the area but missed out on the MLK Day event, you can still get involved in volunteer projects around the Richmond Greenway through The Watershed Project's Second Saturday work days.

    Congratulations to the many volunteers across America who marked MLK Day by making a positive contribution to their community.

    Photos by RTC.

     

  • A Great Moment for Trails as Deal Struck for Connection in New York

    Just a few weeks ago, we posted a story to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) TrailBlog about the imminient completion of the Dutchess Rail Trail in New York, one of the final acts in office of outgoing Dutchess County Executive William R. Steinhaus.

    The completion of the Dutchess Rail Trail was set to draw attention once again to the possibility of connecting the Dutchess to the remarkable Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, and on to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail on the opposite side of the Hudson River.

    Though the Dutchess is separated from the Walkway Over the Hudson by just one mile of disused rail corridor, the cost and complexity of negotiating a land deal with CSX Transportation Corp., which owns the disused corridor, had drained many supporters of any optimism that the link would happen.

    Not Steinhaus, however.

    "I believe there will be a meeting of the minds sometime next year that will finally allow for the acquisition of that final piece of property and the linkage between the [Dutchess Rail Trail] and the Walkway to become a reality," Steinhaus told the Poughkeepsie Journal at the time.

    They turned out to be words of great prophecy. Yesterday, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., stood at a podium set up at the Walkway's eastern gate to announce a deal had been struck to purchase the land from CSX for the creation of a rail-trail.

    The announcement of a deal to purchase the relatively small section, in the city of Poughkeepsie near College Hill Park, makes real what has long been a dream of trails advocates, business people and residents - a complete trail system from Hopewell Junction to the town of Lloyd, taking in some of the region's most scenic landscape and communities.

    CSX has agreed to sell the eight-tenths of a mile stretch to Walkway Over the Hudson, a non-profit organization, for $1.15 million. The Dyson Foundation will provide $500,000, with $600,000 having been raised through recreational and environmental grants. CSX will donate $100,000 as a credit at closing. Preliminary work on the connection is expected to begin soon.

    It is expected that the completed trail system will provide an enormous boost for tourism and economic development in the Poughkeepsie and Highland areas.

    Since the Walkway opened in October 2009, it has drawn more than 1.2 million visitors and pumped more than $30 million into the local economy.

    RTC's own Karl Wirsing visited the area last year, and says the new connection will further enhance the great benefits of the existing trails, for visitors as well as locals.

    "The view from the Walkway Over the Hudson really is spectacular, and the whole trail system there is a huge draw," he says. "When the connection is complete, it will make for an incredibly scenic trail adventure. The river, the hamlets and towns, the scenary - it's a wonderful place to explore. And all this within 70 or 80 miles of New York City."

    RTC offers its heartiest congratulations to all the community groups and individuals who have worked so hard over the years bringing this tremendous vision to fruition.

    Photos courtesy of the Poughkeepsie Journal

     

  • Ahead Of The Curve, Tom Murphy a Key Trailblazer in Pennsylvania

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration in October, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. We will be posting a blog story on each of the honorees during the coming weeks. Today we recognize the legacy of Tom Murphy, one of the first mayors in the nation to recognize the economic value of trails to developing cities.

    For the last 30 years, Tom Murphy has been a highly active and influential supporter of rail-trails. As an elected official, his promotion of trails and urban green space has transformed the landscape of Pittsburgh and helped make Pennsylvania one of the nation's most trail-friendly states. From 1979 through 1993 Murphy served eight terms in the Pennsylvania State General Assembly House of Representatives. The legislation Murphy authored during this time to encourage industrial land reuse and transform unused railroad rights-of-way into trails and greenspace went a long way toward building a sustainable economy around trails tourism and outdoor recreation.

    Murphy led the passage of the Pennsylvania Rail Trail Act in 1989, as well as the state's purchase of what is now the 64-mile Pine Creek Rail-Trail. He went on to serve three terms as mayor of Pittsburgh from 1994 to 2005. During this time, he oversaw the development of more than 20 miles of new riverfront trails and urban green space, and he developed strategic partnerships to transform more than 1,000 acres of blighted, unused industrial properties into new commercial, residential, retail and public uses. Murphy's legacy in Pittsburgh is evident today in the Three Rivers Heritage Trail System, which attracts millions of recreational and commuter users.

    "Tom understood what trails and biking could do for the city, at a time when nobody was talking about it," says RTC's Tom Sexton. "Beyond his role in Pittsburgh, Tom was a cheerleader for trails right throughout the southwest part of the state. Now that we have all these great trails, people forget there was a time when people weren't interested in this stuff. But Tom was a visionary; he was out on the stump."

    Murphy dedicated the Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion grant awarded in his honor to Friends of the Riverfront, which has worked for 20 years to reclaim Pittsburgh's riverfronts for public access and recreational use.

    Photo of Tom Murphy at RTC's 25th Anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C. by Laura Cohen/RTC.

  • Rail-Trails Help Power a Ride to Honor America's Veterans

    The rail-trails of Ohio will host a remarkable long-distance ride later this year, when Todd Reigle and the Honor Ride Ohio team pedal from Sylvania, on the Michigan border, all the way to Cincinnati to raise money to support our military veterans.

    The goal of Honor Ride Ohio is to raise more than $100,000 for Honor Flight Columbus, Ohio Fallen Heroes Memorial, Wounded Warrior Project, Ohio Warrior Scholarship Fund, Hidden Scars Foundation and the Ohio Combat Veterans--community organizations that provide support to returning servicemen and women.

    Reigle, a native Ohioan with a strong interest in America's military history and the sacrifices made by his family, and others, in active service, was inspired to organize the ride by the success of similar fundraising efforts.

    "Honor Ride Ohio has been in my mind for a few years," Reigle says. "I participated in Pelotonia, the bike ride for *** cancer awareness, and that kind of got me interested in riding bikes. I'd been thinking of something we could do where we could raise money to help these grassroots organizations that deal with taking care of the vets, but that also have to raise money to make sure that the services are provided."

    Reigle will be joined on the five-day journey by a number of active and retired soldiers, and the group will make stops in Lima, Kenton, Sunbury, Columbus, Dayton and other communities on their way to Cincinnati.

    "The best thing about this is that 100 percent of donations will go directly to these organizations," Reigle says. "My goal is to go out and get donations for everything we need for the ride, so there are no other expenses."

    Eric Oberg, manager of trail development for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Midwest Regional Office, has been working with Reigle and the Honor Ride Ohio crew on plotting a safe, and fun, route across the state. "Ohio has so many great rail-trails," Oberg says. "They are perfect for a long ride like this, as they're relatively flat, travel fairly directly between communities, and are scenic and peaceful, too." 

    Oberg hopes Honor Ride Ohio will be able to travel a number of rail-trails in central Ohio, including the Olentangy Greenway Trail, Camp Chase Rail Trail, Roberts Pass Trail and the Prairie Grass Trail. The riders will utilize RTC's trail-finder website, TrailLink.com, for accurate, up-to-date information on the best way to get from A to B.

    For more information on Honor Ride Ohio, visit toddsride.com, or visit todd.reigle@radiohio.com.

    Photo of the Roberts Pass Trail courtesy of TrailLink.com.

  • Sally Jacobs Heralded for Building a Landscape of Biking and Walking in the Northeast

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration in October, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. We will be posting a blog story on each of the honorees during the coming weeks. Today we pay tribute to Sally Jacobs, whose promotion of options for walking and biking made her a powerful champion of active transportation in the Northeast.

    Born in New York City and transplanted to the Black Hills of South Dakota as a teenager, Sally Jacobs spent a number of years in northern Colorado and Iowa before settling in Orono, Maine.

    Her diversity of experiences in America's urban and rural areas was the perfect background for the many decades she has since spent as an advocate for reshaping community landscapes to better serve riding and walking.

    After a long and successful career in bio­chemistry, Jacobs was tapped in 1975 to chair a newly formed bicycle safety committee in Orono. One of her first actions in what would become a second career was securing grant funding from the Federal Highway Bikeway Demonstration Program to build bike lanes in Orono, and the first off-road paved bike path in Maine. The five-mile bike path connected Orono, Old Town and the University of Maine campus with sections of an old railbed.

    Jacobs went on to become founding president of the Sunrise Trail Coalition, a position she held for 12 years. She has served on the Maine Depart­ment of Conservation Trails Advisory Committee and the Maine Department of Transportation Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee since their inceptions in 1992.

    Her most recent dream-come-true was the opening of the 85-mile Down East Sunrise Trail, built on a railbanked corridor along the coast of Maine--the culmination of 25 years of rail-trail advocacy.

    To receive the Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions grant awarded in her honor, Jacobs chose the Sunrise Trail Coalition (STC) in recognition of their outstanding work and need for ongoing funding. With the official opening of the Down East Sunrise Trail in September 2010, the scope of the STC has transitioned from advocacy to management and fundraising for trailhead amenities, promotional materials and maintenance.

    Photo of Sally Jacobs receiving her Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions Award from RTC President Keith Laughlin by Scott Stark/RTC.

     

  • RTC Brings Rail-With-Trail Expertise to Coastal California

    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Western Regional Office has been watching with great interest the progression of plans for a rail-trail along Monterey Bay in the Central Coast of California.

    So too have the people of Santa Cruz County, and the champagne corks were well and truly popping with the announcement recently that the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC) had closed the deal to acquire the right-of-way beside the 32-mile Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line.

    This 135-year old transportation corridor parallels California State Route 1 from the town of Pajaro in Monterey County, to Davenport, linking major tourism and activity centers as it crosses the Pajaro River, Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor and the San Lorenzo River. In addition to providing non-motorized access to a number of state beaches, state parks, swim centers and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the proposed Santa Cruz Coastal Rail Trail would pass within one mile of more than half the county's population.

    Now, trail advocates, such as the Santa Cruz County Friends of the Rail Trail, are anxious to see work begin on a multi-use trail alongside the active tracks. Enter RTC.

    Utilizing our technical and planning experience with rail-with-trail projects, RTC staff met recently with the SCCRTC and a large group of regional officials, engineers, planners and community advocates to begin designing a Santa Cruz Coastal Rail Trail.

    The line will continue to carry freight and recreational passenger services, so great emphasis will be placed on designing a trail that is safe for all users.

    Entering this phase of rail-trail planning was the perfect opportunity for RTC to bring the Healthy Transportation Network's "Designing for Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety" Workshop to Santa Cruz to share the safety record of rail-with-trail projects, successful strategies for community stewardship of trails, and methods to avoid user conflict.

    "A lot of rail lines in California are still in use for passenger and freight service, so we are seeing some really great rail-with-trail projects," says Steve Schweigerdt, manager of trail development for RTC's Western Regional Office. "Combining both a trail and an active train line makes incredibly efficient use of these corridors in our transportation system."

    A project of the California Department of Public Health's California Active Communities program, the Healthy Transportation Network has been presenting this free workshop in communities across California for the past four years. They were able to bring the workshop to Santa Cruz thanks to help of local sponsors including the University of California at Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County Cycling Club, Spokesman Bicycles, Family Cycling Center, Ibis Bicycles, Traugott Guitars, Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz and Ecology Action.

    Some more great news for the people of California came with the announcement this week that land has been acquired for the development of another mile of the city of San José's burgeoning trails network.

    A remarkable multi-jurisdictional effort involving the city of San José, the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority (Open Space Authority) and the Parks and Recreation Department of Santa Clara County, the one-mile addition to the Three Creeks Trail will expand recreation and transportation options within the urban core, and create linkages between the Los Gatos Creek, Guadalupe River and Coyote Creek regional trails. It will also enable the continued growth in non-motorized commuting and errands that have been documented in annual San Jose trail counts since 2007.

    Both of these projects are manifestations of a growing demand in California and across the country for healthier and more active options for getting from A to B.

    "Growing active transportation mode share is critical to continued improvements in air quality, congestion mitigation,and health of California residents," Schweigerdt says. "Santa Cruz and San José are taking important steps in the right direction, and their residents and businesses will benefit."

    Photo courtesy of Howard Cohen

     

  • This Monday, Bring Some Love to Your Local Rail-Trail

    This coming Monday, January 16, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not only a moment to reflect on a very amazing guy who did some very amazing things. It's also a first-rate opportunity to get out with your friends, roll the sleeves up and make a positive contribution to your community!

    Volunteering just a few hours of your MLK Day holiday is good for the soul, not to mention that hanging out with a bunch of community-minded folks in your neighborhood is generally pretty fun anyway.

    All across the country, in big cities and small boroughs, citizens are planning volunteer events that pay tribute to Dr. King's remarkable legacy, while sprucing up their neighborhood at the same time. Many of these events are being hosted on rail-trails, as supporter groups do simple maintenance and clean up the community pathways we love and use regularly. In Richmond, Calif., Friends of the Richmond Greenway is getting its buddies together for an event on Monday morning. And here in Washington, D.C., Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is teaming up with the Student Conservation Association to do a little pre-spring cleaning on the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

    Do you have a great rail-trail in your neck of the woods? Then get in touch with your local municipality or "Friends of" group to see if there is a volunteer event supporting the rail-trail this Monday.

    If there isn't an event on your favorite rail-trail, perhaps you can start one yourself? All you need is a few friends and a can-do attitude!

    Photo of Met Branch Trail courtesy of Randall Myers.

     

  • Organized Advocates in Wayland, Mass., Push for Local Rail-Trail

    Conscious of the many benefits rail-trails bring to rural communities, the people of Wayland, Mass., about 20 miles west of Boston, are taking a proactive approach toward developing a rail-trail in their region.

    Wayland lies along the route of the proposed Massachusetts Central Rail Trail (MCRT), a 104-mile trail project that would connect 24 communities, from Boston to Northampton, and traverse almost the entire width of the state.

    The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (MDCR) recently leased 26 miles of the rail corridor passing through Wayland and the small communities of Waltham, Weston, Sudbury, Hudson and Berlin, for conversion into a multi-use greenway. But while MDCR has the administrative will to see the corridor through Wayland turned into a trail, it does not currently have the means--an estimated $20 million to develop 26 miles of hard-surface trail.

    Fearful that the daunting task of raising such a large amount of money would see the entire project languish and disappear, an energetic and well-organized group of locals has formed Friends of the Wayland Rail Trail. They are positioning the town as the ideal candidate to kick off the larger trail effort as a smaller demonstration project.

    Friends of the Wayland Rail Trail has produced a remarkable document explaining the value of a multi-use trail to the town, and stating why Wayland is the most appropriate choice to receive funding support as a "phase one" in the larger development of the trail. The Wayland section is three miles of the 26-mile corridor.

    "Over the last several years, support for the rail-trail in Wayland has been growing and we have been improving the informal path through special permits," the report states. "We would like to work with MDCR now on the three miles within our town lines as a demonstration project for the MCRT. It may be as much as 20 years before the goal of a 26-mile hard surface multi-use trail could be funded and built. With low cost improvements the informal path could be transformed into a significantly improved and safer recreational trail."

    The report points out the significant public and municipal support for the trail in Wayland and notes the inclusion of a multi-use trail connecting to downtown Wayland in the municipal master plan. In recent years the township has emphasized the importance of enabling non-motorized transportation; it's new "Wayland Walks Wayland Works" program is aimed at connecting all of Wayland Center with sidewalks and walkways.

    In mobilizing support for the rail-trail in their town, Friends of the Wayland Rail-Trail has built a thorough and digestible library of maps, photos, information, summaries of benefits, current trail conditions, potential links to other trails and proposals for development that clearly demonstrates the strong grassroots support needed to turn state or federal funding into a successful local project. The document also includes statements of support from residents and local businesspeople, a compelling testimony to the energy in Wayland for more opportunities for walking and biking.

    "This is an unprecedented opportunity to develop a major community resource," says one resident. "I still have the dream that Weston will join up and make a Waltham to Bolton connection, but even just through Wayland is a great opportunity."

    "One of the best aspects of Wayland is the ability to make use of open space," another resident comments. "As we lose some of the space to development, we need to keep working to find and new ways to offer open space to residents and visitors. The rail-trail works well in other towns; we need to get on board!"

    "I'm in support of any activity that will bring families and friends together for exercise," says another resident. "It is an excellent use of the land and will preserve it for future generations."

    With federal and state budgets tight, the people of Wayland have tapped into the importance of demonstrating resounding community support for these projects, and emphasizing the value for money they represent.

    For more information on the Wayland Rail Trail, contact Larry Kiernan at larrykiernan04@gmail.com, or 508.358.2568.

    Photo and slide courtesy of Friends of the Wayland Rail Trail.

     

  • Rail Company Donates 21-Mile Corridor for Rail-Trail

    Patriot Rail Corp. has demonstrated a tremendous community spirit by donating a section of unused rail corridor to the people of Mississippi for conversion into a rail-trail.

    The 21-mile portion of the Mississippi and Skuna Valley (MSV) Railroad line runs through Calhoun and Yalobusha counties in north-central Mississippi. Calhoun County Board of Supervisors accepted the property donation last month, establishing the Mississippi and Skuna Valley Rails to Trails Recreational District. Since the MSV also traverses Yalobusha County, Calhoun County entered into a joint agreement with Yalobusha County for the project.

    Though many miles of rail corridor across the country currently lie unused, local governments and community groups are not always able to come to terms with railroad companies to purchase or negotiate other lease deals for the property. By contrast, Patriot's generous and farsighted gesture demonstrates not only a willingness to support its local community, but also an astute understanding of the importance of preserving the land for public use. By transferring ownership of the intact corridor to the counties, the door has been kept open for the corridor to be returned to use as a rail line in the future, if service is warranted.

    "Repurposing the MSV railroad into a trail is an excellent use of this rail corridor, transforming a once underutilized property into a vibrant community asset," says Gary O. Marino, chairman, president and CEO of Patriot Rail Corp. "We hope that this trail will be a source of enjoyment for the community for many years to come."

    The new trail, which would link the towns of Bruce and Coffeeville, is expected to be called the Skuna Valley Trail. Already local and state officials have begun exploring the possibility of connecting the corridor to existing trails in the area. Both counties have also met with the managers of trail systems nearby, such as the Tanglefoot Trail, to learn more about capitalizing on the myriad benefits such trails bring to local communities.

    Plans are being considered to connect the future Skuna Valley Trail with the Tanglefoot Trail, and another unused rail corridor extending north from Coffeeville to Water Valley.

    "There are people who fly all over the country to ride these trails," Mississippi Department of Transportation Chief Counsel Roy Tipton told The Journal of Calhoun County. "The possibility is there to bring a lot of traffic into your communities for very little risk."

    Photo courtesy of Patriot Rail Corp. Map courtesy of Mississippi Rails.

     

  • Demolition of Historic Bridge Would Be Another Setback for Rail-Trail in Pennsylvania

    "Rome was not built in a day," as the famous saying goes. That's not a fact that needs to be pointed out to the people of Lancaster County in southeast Pennsylvania.

    It has been 22 years since the railroad company Conrail filed to officially abandon a section of the Enola Branch rail line, which runs through the townships of Bart, Sadsbury, Conestoga, Eden, Providence and Martic. In that time, widespread support for the conversion of the 23-mile section of rail corridor into a multi-use trail has been held up by costly and complex legal proceedings and title disputes, which has in turn delayed funding applications.

    This past summer many improvements were made on what is now referred to as the Enola Low-Grade Trail. A rough surface of crushed limestone was laid by Amtrak on one section of the trail, where it needed access for its trucks to install new power lines. And while technically the entire corridor is open to the public, significant improvements, and secure maintenance and funding agreements, are needed if the trail is to become the regional attraction supporters believe it should be. Trail users this month report at least one township had posted "No Trespassing" signs along the corridor.

    Though the painful progress is frustrating for everyone involved, the passage of time has produced a remarkably resolute group of local rail-trail advocates. The project's delay has given them ample opportunity to study the benefits rail-trails across Pennsylvania have brought to communities just like theirs, strengthening their resolve to make good use of the out-of-service corridor.

    One of these advocates is Mark Rudy, roadmaster and outgoing supervisor for Eden Township. According to an article at Lancaster Online, Rudy was once opposed to the idea of a recreational trail but changed his mind as the great public desire for a trail became evident.

    This month, Rudy is responding to a pressing threat that has the potential to set the rail-trail project back once again and rob the area of an irreplaceable piece of its rich heritage.

    An historic stone arch bridge, which once carried steam-powered locomotives into Eden at the turn of the 20th century, is set to be demolished as early as this spring. Demolition of the Pumping Station Road bridge, built with blocks cut by Italian stonemasons a century ago, was ordered by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) in 1997; in transferring the corridor to the six townships in 2008, Conrail's successor, Norfolk Southern, included the same language requiring demolition of a number of structures.

    Rudy is circulating a petition in the area to save the Pumping Station Road bridge. He is concerned not only for the unique historical value of the bridge, but also its function as a vital part of the rail-trail. Rudy estimates the bridge would last another three generations with no upkeep costs. Demolition of the bridge would not only cost tens of thousands of dollars, but would also necessitate the construction of a new bridge for trail users.

    It is very much the 11th hour for the bridge, and the immediate future of the rail-trail. Bids for demolition are due in mid-January, and the structure could be gone by spring.

    Rudy suggests anyone wanting to support the preservation of the Pumping Station Road bridge should contact PUC Chairman Robert Powelson at 717-787-4301, or Pennsylvania State Rep. Bryan Cutler at bcutler@pahousegop.com and 717-783-6424.

    If you are interested in supporting the Enola Low-Grade Trail effort, or for more information, contact Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Northeast Regional Office at 717.238.1717 or northeast@railstotrails.org.

    Photo courtesy of lancasteronline.com.

     

  • Alabama, Georgia Rail-Trails to Host a Relay Race for the Ages

    The Silver Comet Trail in Georgia is named after the fast and luxurious (for its time) Silver Comet train, which zoomed passengers along the Seaboard Air Line between New York and Birmingham, Ala., in the 1940s, '50s and '60s.

    These days, the sight of the Silver Comet flashing by has been replaced by people of all ages, walking, running and riding, as the 61.5-mile Silver Comet Trail (pictured, right) and the 33-mile Chief Ladiga Trail connect at the Alabama border. Together they form one of the longest continuous paved rail-trail corridors in America, and in 2009 they were inducted into Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.

    This May, "rapid transit" returns to the Seaboard Air Line with the running of the first-ever Dixie200 Relay race. Teams of between four and 12 runners will cover a 200-mile course between Atlanta and Birmingham, almost half of which will be on the Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga trails.

    Race organizer Kirk Sadler says the famous rail-trails will provide the perfect track and backdrop for this unique, overnight relay.

    "We are always searching for beautiful and safe routes for our teams," he says. "We found exactly that in the 90-plus mile combination of the Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga trail system."

    Registration is now open, and runners of all speeds and abilities are encouraged to put a team together with their friends, family members, teammates or colleagues, and get involved.

    "There is a place for everyone on this adventure, from fierce competitors to causal runners," Sadler says.

    Each person in a 12-person relay team would run three legs of between 3 to 10 miles.

    The Dixie200 will be held May 18-19. For more information visit www.dixie200.com­.

    Photo of the Silver Comet Trail courtesy of www.TrailLink.com.

    Relay runners photo courtesy of Kirk Sadler.

     

  • From Strength to Strength: Minneapolis Contines to Build Bike- and Walk-ability

    By Jay Walljasper

    After being acclaimed as America's best city for biking in 2010, what can you possibly do for an encore?

    In the case of Minneapolis, Minn., you do even more bicycling--and more walking, too.

    People here biked and walked 16 percent more in 2011 than in 2010, when Minneapolis was crowned "#1 Bike City" by Bicycling magazine. St. Paul, and a number of inner-ring suburbs nearby, showed similar growth.

    Biking rose 22 percent across the Twin Cities compared to 2010, according to data just released by Bike Walk Twin Cities (BWTC). And it's up a whopping 53 percent since 2007, when the organization began counting bicyclists and pedestrians at 42 locations from Beltline Blvd. in St. Louis Park to Larpenteur Avenue in Falcon Heights.

    Walking is also on the rise in the Twin Cities. Pedestrian traffic rose 9 percent compared to 2010, and 18 percent since 2007. 

    Furthermore, Minneapolis gained more national recognition for its burgeoning culture of active transportation. It came in ninth in WalkScore's walkability rankings of America's 50 largest cities, second in the Midwest after Chicago. That put it ahead of Portland (12) and Denver (16). St. Paul would have ranked 15th (third in the Midwest) if it were among the 50 largest cities. 

    BWTC has conducted bike and pedestrian counts over the past five years as part of the federally funded Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTPP), which is focused on enabling Americans to switch from driving to biking and walking for many short trips. BWTC is a program of Transit for Livable Communities, a nonprofit focused on increasing transportation options for Minnesotans.

    The pronounced rise of two-wheel and two-feet travel between 2010 and 2011 is attributable in part to an array of street improvements--including more bike lanes and special bicycle-and-pedestrian boulevards--installed around town in the past year as part of the NTPP. The Twin Cities was one of four communities around the country designated as transportation laboratories in the NTPP legislation, which was passed by a Congress in 2005 and signed by President George W. Bush. 

    "The goal of this project from Congress was to shift some trips, and this data shows it is happening," says Director of BWTC Joan Pasiuk. "The implications for overall health and transportation access are outcomes the community will realize from the numbers we're reporting."

    Bike and pedestrian counts on the Lake Street Bridge, for example, show the increase in biking translates to 96,000 fewer auto trips at that location in 2011 than 2007, explains Tony Hull, BWTC's Nonmotorized Evaluation Analyst. He arrived at that figure by using a model developed by Alta Planning & Design of Portland, Ore., as part of the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Protocol.

    Overall, people made 1.1 million bike and pedestrian trips across the bridge in 2011.

    "This is a massive number of people that need to be factored in our transportation policies," Hull notes. "It's not just nice that people are biking and walking more today. It's a significant form of transportation," which he says offers positive results for public health, the environment and our sense of community.

    Accurate bike and pedestrian counts are critical to the growth of biking and walking in America, Pasiuk explains. "Policymakers act on hard evidence--they want to be able to know if their investment is paying off and that more people are relying on biking and walking as a regular transportation pattern. These counts show what's happening on the streets in a way everyone can understand."

    The busiest spot for bicyclists in this year's count was 15th Avenue and University Avenue, near the University of Minnesota campus, with 787 riders and 1840 pedestrians counted between 4 and 6 p.m. in mid-September.

    I was on hand at the second busiest spot, the Sabo Bridge on the Midtown Greenway, where 767 riders and 60 pedestrians crossed over Hiawatha Avenue. It was a chilly afternoon with howling winds that felt more like March than September. Yet waves of bicycles rode by, ridden by everyone from executives in business suits to Native American children from the nearby Little Earth housing project.

    Rolf Scholtz tallied each one as they passed. He's the president of Dero Bike Rack Company, located in the nearby Seward neighborhood, and one of 54 volunteers who took part in the project.

    "We let our employees out to do the counts every year," he said.  "Bike riding is going crazy around here."

    All the people counting bike and pedestrian traffic were trained by BWTC and were checked on at least once by expert staff during their two-hour shift. Some cities use paid counters from temp agencies, Hull notes, but BWTC believes volunteers are more diligent and accurate. 

    The counts have been carried out the second Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday of September for the past five years, to ensure a relative measure.

    "This data is rock solid," Pasiuk says. "BWTC is using state-of-the-art methodology for tracking and interpreting data."

    BWTC also conduct counts on the second Tuesday of every month at six locations around town. They have turned in surprising results--20 percent of bicyclists and 75 percent of pedestrians continue to bike and walk throughout the winter despite Minnesota's frigid, snowy weather. Given the trends reported today this is no surprise, just more evidence of the transportation shift that the Twin Cities underscores.

    Jay Walljasper is the editor of OnTheCommons.org, and senior Fellow at Project for Public Spaces. He is the author of The Great Neighborhood Book, and has written about cities for National Geographic Traveler and other publications.

    Photos courtesy of Bike Walk Twin Cities.

  • In New York, Completion of Dutchess Rail Trail Raises Prospect of Link Over The Hudson

    The development of the Dutchess Rail Trail in Dutchess County, N.Y., is one of the defining achievements in the 20- year tenure of County Executive William R. Steinhaus.

    And so it is fitting that one of his final tasks before leaving office for retirement last week was to approve plans for the final phase of the rail-trail, which will join two unconnected segments and provide a crucial step toward an extensive rail-trail network throughout the region.

    Stages one, two and three saw the construction of more than 10 miles of trail from Hopewell Junction to the outskirts of Fairview, east of Poughkeepsie and the Hudson River. But the trail was divided into two segments by an undeveloped section of a little more than one mile, through which passed the six busy lanes of State Route 55.

    Stage four, which Steinhaus signed off on last week, will see the construction of a 900-foot, five-span bridge for pedestrians and cyclists over SR 55 and Wappinger Creek, as well as the completion of the missing section of trail. Design work on the $4.3 million project is under way, and construction is expected to begin in May or June of this year.

    The completion of the Dutchess Rail Trail will no doubt draw attention to the exciting possibility of connecting the Dutchess to the remarkable Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, and on to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail on the opposite side of the Hudson River. The Dutchess Rail Trail and the Walkway Over the Hudson are separated by just one mile of unused rail corridor (see map, above). However, negotiations between Dutchess County and CSX Transportation Corp., the owners of the corridor, have not yet resulted in a sale or transfer of the property.

    But Steinhaus is optimistic about a future connection between the two trails.

    "I believe there will be a meeting of the minds sometime next year that will finally allow for the acquisition of that final piece of property and the linkage between the [Dutchess Rail Trail] and the Walkway to become a reality," Steinhaus told the Poughkeepsie Journal.

    Elsewhere in New York, there was great news for the people of Columbia County, with the Copake Hillsdale Rail Trail Alliance announcing it was a step closer to extending the Harlem Valley Rail Trail.

    The group announced it had raised the matching funds required by a $121,965 New York State grant to create a conceptual design and final construction drawings, as well as necessary supporting studies, for the five-mile extension.

    The new section will run north from Copake Falls through the hamlet of Hillsdale, near the state's border with Massachusetts. The expanded trail will link the two communities to the new Roe Jan Community Library and Roe Jan Park with a safe, off-road path for bikers, walkers, runners and cross-country skiers.

    Officials of Hillsdale and Copake view the trail extension as vital to bringing more tourists to their communities and attracting new stores, restaurants and other services.

    The extension is being coordinated by the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association, a nonprofit group that oversees the existing trail, and Columbia Land Conservancy, which has been instrumental in working to extend the trail to its ultimate destination in Chatham, N.Y.

    Map image and photo of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail courtesy of www.TrailLink.com.

  • Iowa's Mark Ackelson Honored for Remarkable Achievements in Preservation

    At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) 25th Anniversary celebration last October, we honored a group of men and women--the inaugural Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions--who have made a remarkable contribution to the rail-trail movement during the past quarter century. We will be posting a blog story on each of the honorees during the coming weeks. Today we recognize Mark Ackelson's enormous contribution to preserving America's natural landscape in Iowa and beyond.

    Mark Ackelson's life has focused on protecting and restoring important natural, wildlife, recre­ational and cultural resource lands in his native Iowa. He has worked for the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) since 1980 and became president of this member-supported, statewide land trust in 1994.

    The INHF has been instrumental in protecting more than 120,000 acres of Iowa's wild places, including the conversion of more than 650 miles of former railroad corridors for conservation and recreation purposes.

    Ackelson's experience in Iowa soon led to a more national role in the promotion and develop­ment of rail-trails, and he has served as chairman of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's board of directors. Ackelson was also a founder of the Land Trust Alliance, a national association of land trusts, and served as chair for three years. His experience in leading multi-regional efforts led to the creation of the Mississippi River Trail, Inc., which is creating a trail the length of the Mississippi River, involving 10 states.

    Ackelson helped secure Iowa's trails and recreation future by creating the Resource Enhancement and Protection Program (REAP), providing $15 to 20 million annually for conservation and recreation. He also helped establish the State Recreation Trail Fund and the Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.

    The Wabash Trace Nature Trail in Iowa will be the beneficiary of the Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion grant awarded in Ackelson's honor. Completed in 1997, this trail follows the former Iowa Southern Railroad, connecting eight communities and some of the state's most scenic countryside along its 63-mile route. The development of the Wabash Trace Nature Trail is credit to an extensive volunteer effort by members of the Southwest Iowa Nature Trail during more than two decades.

    Photo of Mark Ackelson accepting his Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champion Award from RTC President Keith Laughlin by Scott Stark/RTC.

  • In Pennsylvania, Community Explores Connection to Appalachian Trail

    Following the great success of trail networks in neighboring regions, Franklin County in southern Pennsylvania is exploring the possibility of cycling and walking connections to the popular Chambersburg Rail Trail.

    Thanks to a $15,000 grant from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), Greene Township will study the feasibility and benefits of a non-motorized connection between the Chambersburg Rail Trail, which runs through downtown Chambersburg, and Caledonia State Park, 10 miles to the east.

    Local officials will also explore the development of a trail connecting Greene Township Park in Scotland with Norlo Park in Guilford Township.

    Linking local towns with the Caledonia State Park would be a boon for area businesses. In addition to 10 miles of forested hiking trails, the park also connects to the world-renowned Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Thousands of visitors travel the trail each year, seeking food and accommodation in communities along the 2,000-mile route.

    ATC has overseen the South Mountain Partnership Mini-Grant Program since 2009, during which time $188,600 in grants have been awarded, triggering almost $390,000 in grantee matches. The mini-grant program is funded in part by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' Growing Greener program.

    The South Mountain Partnership Mini-Grant awards also brought good news for rail-trail proponents nearby. A grant of $2,500 will allow Shippensburg University to conduct a user and demographic survey on the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail. The Cumberland Valley Rails-to-Trails Council was awarded $3,000 to install interpretive panels highlighting the trail corridor's Civil War and agricultural history.

    The Borough of Gettysburg will receive $11,500 to widen and resurface an initial section of the Gettysburg Inner Loop bicycle trail, which will provide transportation options between historical attractions, community amenities and the downtown business district.

    For more information about the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, visit www.appalachiantrail.org

     

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